Downtown Albert Lea could get more attention through program

Published 10:07 pm Monday, April 8, 2019

City considering economic development program


Albert Lea’s downtown area could be receiving more dedicated attention should the city move forward with funding for a program focusing on its economic development.

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Main Street America and Main Street Minnesota, the national and state iterations of the same program, focus on economic vitality, design, promotion and organization as its four pillars, said Albert Lea Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Rhonda Jordal. Economic development is an important topic for Albert Lea specifically, she said.

“Albert Lea needs to improve on our economic health as well as the perception of our economic health,” Jordal said during the City Council work session ahead of the meeting.

As members of the program, Albert Lea would have access to resources as well as become eligible for state and national grants for the area it designates, which, as Jordal proposed Monday night, could include Main Street and North and South Broadway avenues as well as portions of Bridge Street, Fountain Street, Newton Avenue and South Washington Avenue.

The program could help developing as well as established businesses, Jordal said. She also has the goal for the program to eventually host Wind Down Wednesday and other community events.

“The downtown association does not exist,” Assistant City Manager Jerry Gabrielatos said during the work session. “It’s three volunteers. And to ask them as a community to run our biggest event is not where we want it to be.”

City Manager Chad Adams said the program has the potential to sustain the downtown area and take it to another level.

Gabrielatos also said work toward the Main Street program could include identifying who owns vacant downtown buildings and whether or not those owners are willing to sell, information that could be valuable in targeting future businesses. Jordal said the chamber has already begun work toward this.

“This could be a program that really, it’s an essential point for the downtown,” Gabrielatos said. “We don’t have that.”

The chamber is looking at a five-year period to build the program to where Jordal would like it to be, a time frame chosen after conversations with current Main Street communities on the time needed to successfully start the program, she said.

Should the city become a member, it would be the 10th participant in the state, Jordal said.

The potential $20,000 city funding allocation could be considered at a future meeting as it was not voted on at Monday’s City Council meeting as board members opted for more time to review the program and speak with Jordal.

Jordal deemed the funding critical and said it would go toward funding the running of the program, including membership fees, training and more. Businesses that are members of the Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce would receive membership to the Main Street program as value added, Jordal said.

The Chamber of Commerce is in the process of collecting letters of support. Jordal intends to have the Main Street program application complete and ready to submit by the end of April, she said.

“It’s going to do so much for Albert Lea,” Jordal said.

Also at the meeting, the City Council approved a resolution to support a flood mitigation improvement request for East Main Street, specifically near where Godfather’s Pizza is located. The resolution supports state appropriate of $3.5 million from the Minnesota state bonding process for this mitigation. The city has worked with the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Shell Rock River Watershed District for a proposal that would involve raising roadways above flood levels or installing large stormwater pumps to keep flood levels below the roadway, Adams said. The project is scheduled for 2021.

Mayor Vern Rasmussen Jr. said the resolution was in anticipation of what is now a potential state bonding bill. Until the end of the current legislative session, there is no certainty as to whether the state will pass a bonding bill. However, if the state does not, the city can request state bonding dollars next year.

“I think this is a top priority for us,” Rasmussen said.

In other action:

• The City Council identified its priorities for 2019-20, which included flooding and stormwater mitigation, economic and community development in the form of new economic development initiatives and continued collaboration with the Albert Lea Economic Development Agency, advancing the Blazing Star Landing Project and developing and implementing a comprehensive housing plan. Other high-priority areas include Blue Zones projects, health care and a review of the city’s assessment policy.

• The council set an effective date of May 1 on the Tobacco 21 ordinance passed at its March 25 meeting.

• Plans, specifications and ordering of bids were approved for the Newton Avenue reconstruction and concrete rehabilitation project. The project includes complete reconstruction from Pearl Street to Second Street and concrete rehabilitation from Second Street to Fourth Street. The project has an estimated cost of over $1.45 million.

• The Albert Lea Wastewater Treatment Plant Facility was recognized for its award for operational excellence by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. According to the agency, facilities were required to submit all reports correctly and on time and demonstrate consistent compliance through monitoring, operations and maintenance as well as employ staff certified in wastewater operations. Rasmussen said the facility had not experienced any unauthorized discharges or presented significant compliance concerns.

• The City Council approved a tax abatement to properties at 1725 Keystone Drive and 1322 Foothill Boulevard.


About Sarah Kocher

Sarah covers education and arts and culture for the Tribune.

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